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Anna J. Cooper (Anna Julia), 1858-1964
A Voice from the South
Xenia, Ohio: The Aldine Printing House, 1892.

Summary

In A Voice from the South (1892), Cooper engages a variety of issues ranging from women's rights to racial progress, from segregation to literary criticism. The first half of her book concentrates largely on the education of African American women. Women, Cooper argues, are essential to "the regeneration and progress of a race." Accordingly, women should be brought fully into the education process. She criticizes the Episcopal Church for neglecting the education of African American women and argues that this explains why the Church has made little headway in enlightening large numbers of African Americans. Cooper expands her examination to include all women and the right to vote. She explains that female representation will result in "the supremacy of moral forces of reason and justice and love in the government of the nation." Likewise, Cooper argues that the institution of segregation damages the nation. She claims that it not only encourages poor manners, but it has an adverse effect on American intellectual and artistic life.

In the second half of her book, Cooper discusses a number of authors and their representations of African Americans. Among others, she discusses Harriet Beecher Stowe, Albion Tourgée, George Washington Cable, William Dean Howells, and Maurice Thompson. Cooper reaches the conclusion that an accurate depiction of African Americans has yet to be written, and she calls for an African American author to take up this challenge: "What I hope to see before I die is a black man honestly and appreciatively portraying both the Negro as he is, and the white man, occasionally, as seen from the Negro's standpoint."

Cooper discusses the African American role in the economy for the remainder of her book. She views African American poverty as the heritage of slavery, but notes that despite their disadvantaged start and the active opposition to African American economic growth, there has been significant progress in this area. Cooper considers education to be the best investment for African American prosperity. She cites the African Methodist Church as making great headway with its institutions of learning. Cooper believes that students should receive practical education that will enable them to earn a living, and only those students who show special aptitude or desire should be educated more thoroughly in the humanities. Finally, Cooper argues that individuals should live up to their potential by avoiding the dangers of agnosticism, and they should engage in "the noble work here and now" that helps men prepare for the "existence beyond."

Andrew Leiter

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